Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is both the ultimate disappointment and wish fulfillment

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it’s a PS5 and Xbox Series X/S upgrade for one of 2019’s best fighting games. Others see it as an opportunity to shake up the game’s stagnant meta. And a handful of, ahem, louder people have been anticipating this compilation as it marks Mileena and Rain’s grand entrance into Mortal Kombat 11. MK11 Ultimate handles all of these crowds differently, leading to a bloody bundle that is both a disappointment and some great fan service.

Performing a Fatality on load times

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the ultimate disappointment and wish fulfillment

Current gen (because that’s what it’s called now) systems have been kind to Mortal Kombat 11, a game that was already quite the looker on PS4 and Xbox One. The more varied art, detailed character models, and brilliant use of HDR carry over splendidly and look even better on the new hardware because of the higher base resolution. Watching Kotal Kahn’s innards coat Goro’s Lair is just as brutal and stunning as it was on the last batch of consoles. It’s not a gigantic leap in visual fidelity, but that’s more of a testament to how slick it looked in the first place.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s more drastic technical enhancements have seemingly been focused solely on the load times. Much has been said about the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s blazing-fast SSDs and few games show that off better than MK11, as matches take a mere two or three seconds to load in as opposed to 15 to 20 seconds. While the game’s constant need to connect to the network can slow down some of the menus, getting in and out of matches at Kabal-like speeds is quite the game-changer that fighting games have needed; a genre that greatly benefits from constant action and little downtime.

The constant network connection is, and always has been, annoying, but it has let the game have such a smooth transition to the new consoles. Profiles carry over within the same console family without any hassle, meaning everything players have earned will immediately show up in the new version. Even some of the previously earned trophies automatically pop. Many living games have been making the jump to the next generation and Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate should serve as an example that other developers should follow.

A ravenous clone, half-god, and grizzled Vietnam veteran

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the ultimate disappointment and wish fulfillment

Ultimate is savvy at carrying over old stuff, but it also adds a few things to the game, too, like the three new fighters: Mileena, Rain, and Rambo. Although caving to obnoxious fan demand is a questionable decision, Mileena has a varied move list that accommodates for different playstyles while still retaining her feral nature. Rain doesn’t have as many sharp teeth, but his water-based attacks are a spectacle to watch and give him unique combo potential.

Rambo is a bit of a different story. Sylvester Stallone’s signature mumbly voice acting is predictably mediocre — he really needs his own subtitles — yet his abilities both pay homage to the films and work within the game. Traps, bows, and melee attacks of the knife and fist variety all fit Rambo’s character and allow him to have three unique styles that make him stand out from the cast. Using guns hidden inside bushes or a spiky log swing both look goofy in practice, but they make for a better, more honest portrayal of the ‘80s action star. Rambo’s suite of iconic moves is ripe for a fighting game and NetherRealm explores those options beautifully; a luxury the team didn’t quite have with the relatively mundane Terminator.

Not so ultimate

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the ultimate disappointment and wish fulfillment

All three characters have shown how NetherRealm’s character creation process has progressed and improved since MK11’s launch, but the team, much to its detriment, has not changed its approach to how it supports the game. The “Ultimate” in Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is somewhat of a misnomer because it is decidedly not as much of a revival or shake up as that title implies. The game fundamentally has a lot of the same issues and that sucks a lot of the air out of this whole package for those who have stuck with it.

Breakaways still have the same poor input. Kombat League, while currently in between seasons, has not had any meaningful changes and is still primed to be the same toxic mess with an overly stringent ladder of rewards and lackluster matchmaking. Connection filters and mute options are still absent. Cross-play, which would widen the ranked player pool, is still relegated to the other online modes even though it’s been in beta for almost a year.

Mortal Kombat 11 players have been repeatedly asking for NetherRealm to address these persistent issues, but the developer has once again opted to add to the game instead of fixing or improving what’s there. When a game like this is damaged at the root, it’s hard to fully appreciate the new branches and the otherwise solid trunk. Testing out Mileena and Rain is fun at first until a bad, laggy Kombat League set drains your hard-earned points or you lose a match because of an accidental Breakaway.

A tricky balancing act

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate is the ultimate disappointment and wish fulfillment

This also applies to the game’s balance as Ultimate‘s meta shift is underwhelming on paper. NetherRealm, as it is apt to do, stubbornly stuck to its guns by hardly tweaking the top and bottom tier as the balance patch doesn’t make any sweeping adjustments in either direction. Even though they will have a positive effect, the poke frame data changes that made up the bulk of the patch notes are a very, very dry way to balance the game and an underwhelming centerpiece. Its imbalances fester more and more with each passing Kombat League season so it is even more frustrating to see the game not get more substantial changes, especially after stagnating since Aftermath’s May release. MK11 is just not in a position to hold tight for months on end yet again; an inevitability given NetherRealm’s track record.

Allowing custom moves in ranked matches is a bigger and more impressive balance shift than tweaking poke frame data and grants a level of freedom the game should have launched with. But a lot of these moves weren’t altered in the transition and are either too strong to leave behind or laughably useless. The point system and values need to be overhauled and each move should be analyzed to fit this new system. Instead, it feels as if NetherRealm removed the most broken ones and dropped the rest in as is, which isn’t what they were originally designed for. Perhaps the team wants to see where the chips fall, but, again, it’s too likely the game will sit in its current state for far too long and have its problems compound in the meantime.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate’s shortcomings will only stick out to people still playing Mortal Kombat 11 over a year and a half later as it is a pretty balanced game for the most part. Most people won’t care that Cassie Cage’s Kneecappin’ move just takes up only one ability slot or that RoboCop isn’t as competitively viable as he should be. They’ll see the game for what it is: an enhanced version of an excellent, content-rich fighting game that’s getting yet another round of content. But that content seems to be taking priority and keeping the game from reaching its full potential and satisfying every part of its audience.